Talk of a takeover of Newcastle United takeover has once again dominated Tyneside, with reports of owner Mike Ashley to sell the club before the end of the season.
Ashley, who bought the club in 2007, has been criticised by fans and figures in football for a lack of investment in the transfer market and not backing manager Rafael Benitez in strengthening the squad, and recently gave an interview revealing that talks for a takeover were 'at a more advanced stage than they have ever been'.
Walsall-born Sports Direct owner Ashley put Newcastle up for sale in October 2017, and negotiations with potential buyers broke down after Ashley stated that he was only keen on selling the club to the 'right buyer'.
Newcastle fans have been unhappy with the ownership situation of their club and have protested Ashley by staying out of their seats during certain games to express their anger over his 11-year reign.
So how much is Ashley worth, what other business endeavours does he own, and who could potentially purchase Newcastle? Goal takes a look.
How much is Mike Ashley worth?
Ashley's net worth is said to be a reported to be £2.21 billion ($2.9b) according to Forbes. Speaking to Sky Sports in 2018, Ashley claimed that he could not compete with the likes of Manchester City as it was a situation of a 'wealthy individual taking on the equivalent of countries'.
He said: “I’ve put my £250 million into the football club. There’s no more from me. Now the club has to generate its own money.
“If someone said to me I am wealthy – OK, in theory I am a billionaire, even maybe a multi-billionaire – but in reality my wealth is all in Sports Direct shares that, as I said the other week, are the same as wallpaper. I don’t have that cash in the bank, so I don’t have that ability to write a cheque for £200m.
"I don’t have it, it’s very simple, it’s not there. I would have to sell the Sports Direct shares to fund that.
"People outside of football looking in and the way sometimes it’s portrayed is that those sort of wealth terms are in the bank. They’re not and I have to make it clear, I am nowhere near wealthy enough in football now to compete with the likes of Man City and et cetera – not just Man City – where basically it is a wealthy individual taking on what is the equivalent of countries. I cannot and I will not."
The implication that Magpies fans or even manager Rafael Benitez had ever requested the budget in the region that Ashley was suggesting has angered many, as well as leading them to question how the Sports Direct tycoons compared to other Premier League owners.
Pundit Richard Keys was slammed by Newcastle fans and the general football community by suggesting that manager Benitez invest his own money to buy the club after the Spaniard lamented the club's limited funds.
Well said @rioferdy5 👏👏. If Rafa loves Newcastle as he says - spend some of his own money. He’s got enough. Management is about teamwork - why should it always be Ashley? Buy it. It’s still for sale. They’re in the bottom 3 & Rafa is responsible. He picks the team.— Richard Keys (@richardajkeys) January 13, 2019
What other businesses does Mike Ashley own?
Ashley, who is also chairman of sports retail company Sports Direct, took over as CEO in September 2016 following the resignation of former long-time CEO Dave Forsey.
He had founded Sports Direct in 1982 when he was just 18, and the company has since expanded to 700 stores across the country and owns other brands such as Everlast. The company went public in 2007, with Ashley earning $1.8b from the IPO – that same year, he bought Sir John Hall's 41.6 per cent stake in Newcastle United at £1 per share, for a total cost of £55,342,223. As of June 2007, Ashley owned a 77.06% stake in Newcastle United.
Just a year later, Ashley attempted to sell Newcastle after citing heavy debts, and in 2011, further angered fans after temporarily renaming the home ground to Sports Direct Arena from St James' Park.
He then drew more criticism for buying a stake in Rangers FC, due to concerns regarding conflicts of interest.
Ashley is also understood to own stakes in both JD Sports as well as Blacks Leisure Group, who own outdoor retailer Millets. He also has ownership stakes in brands such as Agent Provocateur, which he paid around a reported £25m to rescue from bankruptcy in 2017.
Sports Direct have garnered an infamous reputation for their poor treatment of staff, with a report in 2013 alleging that 90% of staff were on zero-hours contracts. A Channel 4 documentary labelled the Shirebrook-based distribution centre a 'sweatshop', and a later investigation led by the Guardian discovered that the company had fined staff for clocking in late, did not reward overtime hours, and forced staff to wait unpaid for security checks at the end of shifts.
Who could buy Newcastle from Mike Ashley?
Talks of a takeover of Newcastle dominated news headlines once again following Ashley's dramatic intervention in December 2018, after he stated to Sky News of his intentions to sell the club before the end of the January transfer window.
It is understood that his interview was not planned, but it has added more drama in a shaky takeover process that was, for the most part, being taken care of away from the public eye – as even those in senior positions at the club were unaware that the process was as advanced as Ashley had claimed on television.
Scepticism and doubt are the main feelings among Newcastle supporters who are eager to see their club away from the hands of Ashley, but the interview came after the same owner told his squad in recent months that a change of ownership was unlikely this season.
According to the Chronicle, there are several interested parties in purchasing Newcastle whose interest are ranging from fleeting to serious.
Former Chelsea and Manchester United Chief Executive Peter Kenyon is reported to be one of the front-runners to buy the club, and his interest has never been downplayed by senior Newcastle officials. Doubts, however, remain about how he will be able to raise funds for the purchase, though it is known that a portion of the funds will come from figures with links to New York-based Rockefeller Capital Management along with other investors in the United States.
Kenyon's purchase would mean that ownership would fall to several figures rather than one sole rich person.
The Telegraph has previously reported that a Turkish consortium is a leading favourite to take over the club, though little information is known about that – with several groups having signed non-disclosure agreements, speaking about their interest would be tough.
Businesswoman Amanda Staveley (pictured above) had a high-profile pursuit of the Magpies last year which dominated the first half of the season, as she attempted to raise the funds to broker a deal for the club.
The chase ended, however, when Ashley (through a spokesman) had accused her of wasting time. She then told the Times in an interview that she was serious about the offer, made three bids and remained an interested party – but the negotiations broke down and she is no longer in talks to buy the club.
Staveley’s high-profile pursuit of Newcastle last year dominated the first half of the season as she sought to raise the funds to broker a deal for Newcastle.
It ended in acrimony when Ashley – through a spokesman – accused her of wasting time and she subsequently told the Times she was serious, had made three bids and remained interested. But she is not in negotiations and is no longer interested in United.
Arthur Blank, owner of Atlanta Falcons, was reported to have an interest in investing in Newcastle but the claim was denied by a club spokesman last month. They stated that Blank's interest would only be limited to that of Atlanta United, the club of Newcastle transfer target Miguel Almiron.